Reprising the royal ceremonies up close

Reprising the royal ceremonies up close

Special exhibition gives mourners one last chance to see late King's grand cremation rituals, write Pichaya Svasti and Patpon Sabpaitoon

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn opened the exhibition of the royal cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Sanam Luang Thursday. It will be open every day from 7am to 10pm, until Nov 30. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn opened the exhibition of the royal cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Sanam Luang Thursday. It will be open every day from 7am to 10pm, until Nov 30. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

On Oct 26, several hundred thousand people witnessed an historic event -- the royal cremation ceremony for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- right at Sanam Luang.

On show was the tremendous love which Thais and foreigners feel for the late King, coupled with displays of Thai traditional art and craftsmanship which left many viewers watching on TV overseas wanting to pay a visit and sample these things for themselves.

That chance has now come as a special exhibition opens telling the story of the royal cremation ceremonies and the exquisite royal crematorium at Sanam Luang.

It was launched yesterday by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and is expected to accommodate 104,000 visitors a day until its closure at the end of this month.

The exhibition, including multimedia, models and modern technology such as holograms, touchscreens and QR code content, is open 7am-10pm daily during Nov 2-30.

A variety of entertainment similar to that performed on the royal cremation day will be staged in the compound from 6pm-10pm daily.

A highlight is the khon masked dance performance in front of the Phra Thinang Songtham (the pavilion for the royal family and VIP guests) on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

His Majesty the King allowed the exhibition to open after last week's royal cremation for King Bhumibol Adulyadej who passed away on Oct 13 last year. Once the exhibition ends, the royal crematorium will be removed from Sanam Luang.

After yesterday's opening ceremony, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn viewed the exhibition with keen interest, especially sections about King Bhumibol's development projects, soil improvement with the growth of vetiver grass, and commemorative items for temples, and a special section for the blind where they can touch models of the royal crematorium and decorative components.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told the princess the exhibition is part of the Thai people's loving memory of King Bhumibol which encourages them to follow in the late King's footsteps and express their gratitude toward him.

At the exhibition, eight groups of 300 visitors are allowed in for an hour a time at the royal crematorium compound and must leave within five minutes after hearing an alarm.

Visitors must produce their ID cards and pass security screening similar to that in place for last week's royal cremation.

As quotas have been allocated for the public, monks and physically disabled people each day, five screening checkpoints have been set up, including at Tha Chang, near the Mother Earth statue and in front of the Territorial Defence Department for the public, outside Thammasat University's Tha Phra Chan campus for monks, and behind the Ministry of Defence for the disabled.

In Sanam Luang, 10 tents have been installed for visitors to wait to enter the the exhibition.

Nine roads around Sanam Luang are closed to traffic until the end of this month while free buses are available on six routes in the city. Visitors must enter the area from the northern part of Sanam Luang and depart at the southern part near the Grand Palace. Upon arrival, they can survey the landscape, rice fields in the shape of the Thai number nine and a pond with the Chaipattana Aerator, designed by King Bhumibol. Walking further, they can see and walk around the royal crematorium.

Unfortunately, entry to first and second floors of the royal crematorium, according to the original plan, has now been prohibited. However, visitors will be able to watch a special exhibition, including a section on the late King at the Phra Thinang Songtham and those on architecture and art for the royal funeral, crematorium and processions at seven other surrounding buildings.

The exhibition is accessible by wheelchair and also provides special guided tours for those with hearing impairment. Photography is permitted, but selfie photo-taking and live streaming are prohibited. Visitors must wear formal dress similar to the clothes required for those entering the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Bungorn Kullayanawisut, 68, a retired government officer who now lives in United States, said: "The artwok on display in the crematorium are magnificent beyond words. If Thais can preserve our arts, traditions and cultures in such a manner, Thailand will always be one of the most beautiful countries in the world."

Boonchai Pobsuk, a 40-year-old company employee, said the exhibition presents vast knowledge about the late King and what he did during his reign. He said to see the real crematorium is a "different story" from seeing it in TV since the real one is more beautiful and magnificent.

"The exhibition exhibits the works the late King did for the people, evident in over 4,000 royal initiative projects. It reminds me of how much the late King loved his people," Pikool Chaiyapat, a 77-year-old retired housewife, said.

Monthon Chanprom, a police officer and volunteer, said a small number of visitors showed inappropriate behaviour such as touching or taking selfies with exhibits.

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